This week, Atheist Republic social media manager and guest writer, Utsav, shares some of his thoughts about atheism in India.
When westerners answer census questions, they are usually given the chance to answer "non religious" in the religion section. India does not provide this option for their census records. Is India trying to ignore the atheism that exists in the country?
India is the only country in the world with a majority population following Hinduism, or as it was originally known: Sanatana Dharma. As described by the apex court of India, Hinduism is "a way of life" and barely falls in the category of a religion. I was baffled when I was told this. I'd been taught all my life about millions of gods and goddesses in the religion into which I was indoctrinated, and how it was a religion that offered salvation. In actuality, Hinduism respects all other religions, proclaiming all of them as different paths to the same god.
One very noticeable thing in ancient Hinduism is the acceptance and celebration of atheism. Yes, atheism. Samkhya and Mimasa are ancient schools of philosophy within Hinduism which not only refute the existence of God, but provide logic to support their claim. While some views may be recognized as pantheism, they still preach materialism and maintain that this is the only life. They were allowed to teach atheism and materialism in schools, or what were referred to as "gurukuls" in ancient times.
So, is a religion really allowed to promote atheism? By definition, no. Hence, the term "way of life" was coined by the Supreme Court of India. However, Hinduism fell prey to the rise of institutionalized religion in India in the past few centuries. Samkhya and Mimasa were obviously not concerned about God and praying, so they weren't affected by this institutionalization, which left us with institutionalization of the rest of Hinduism which attempted to explain God and salvation. It grew over centuries into what we see now - a sad, divisive, money laundering group, i.e. a religion.
Returning to the original question: Why isn't atheism an option on the Indian census? Because of institutionalized Hinduism which is threatening to infringe on the rights of the individual, and establishing social norms for everyone.
Do you live in India, or other places where institutionalization of religion is threatening atheists? We'd like to hear your story. Reply to this email and we might post it on our website. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.